Out of the Box: Encounters for 5th Edition created by the ZZ Top look-a-likes of the Dungeons and Dragons creators community “Nerdarchy” is a Kickstarter project which raised USD $256,734 from 4,057 backers.
Unlike many Kickstarter projects for 5th edition this product is not a campaign setting, epic adventure, monster, or class feats and expansion book. This book comprises small scenes best described as adventure scenarios. These can be small as a single room that can be dropped into your own campaign. The premise for this title is simple – provide something short and sharp that is inspiring and fun.
Inspiring and fun is where this title succeeds. The book contains fifty-five adventure scenarios suitable for inclusion in dungeons, cities, rural areas, when airborne or seafaring. Regardless of who you are as a game master you will find many adventure scenarios that will suit you are your play style and gaming group.
Looking for a mystery – check, looking for an encounter that will result in a fight – check, looking for that puzzle that will make your players think without pulling their hair out – check, looking for some outhouse humour – check.
Hags, undead, golems, lizard folk, devils, and exploding sheep are some of the delights that fill the pages. At least eight different and well known authors wrote for this book and the diversity of ideas shows through.
Cartography and illustrations throughout the book are very good. The art style varies throughout the book but nothing jars and the art variance reflects the variance of adventure scenarios in the title.
Where this title suffers is in its design, editing and layout.
The book lacks an index to tell game masters the level range of each adventure. This means a GM has to flip back and forth through the entire book to see which adventure scenarios might be suitable. Its a simple oversight but a major problem when you have fifty-five options.
The graphic design for layout can best be described as inconsistent. Sometimes there are spaces between paragraphs and sometimes you are just presented with a wall of text without spacing between paragraphs.
Sometimes the book has three columns of text and sometimes two. Key paragraphs that a game master might want to refer to in a adventure are flagged with bullet points and sometimes they are flagged with a bolded word or phrase.
The Quick Reference Guide sidebar text is too small and has a weird font choice compared to the font chosen for the text body. There is no synergy between the fonts – each clashes with the other – much like the heavy metal music that Nerdarchy used for their Kickstarter promotional video.
Monsters statistics are allowed to flip over the page which is a no-no if you want to make a gamemasters life easier at the table. Maps containing few details are presented in a large size while maps that contains lots of details are displayed very small on the page.
These layout choices combined with the decision to run with unjustified paragraph text results in a book that is difficult to scan to find the content you are searching for.
If the Nerdarchy Team were to produce another 5e product then my recommendation for them is to include in their budget funds to hire an editor like Scott Fitzgerald-Gray or Kim Mohan and to find a professional graphic designer who is trained in font and layout theory rather than taking on the project yourself. As much as the Nerdarchy team members like to do things themselves when you are taking money (and USD $256,734 is a lot of money) the Nerdarchy should have pushed out a product with a presentation quality that either beats or at least compete with the best of the amateurs on the DMs Guild.
Despite the books poor layout and design choices that affects game table usability this is a good product from Nerdrachy. The adventure scenario content is good, the art inspiring and the maps very useful. If you are after a big book of short ideas for your gaming table this is a solid choice and you are unlikely to be disappointed.